The International Steam Pages

Case Notes - India, 1980-7
Western Railway Part 4

Terry Case writes about his travels for steam. Further tales will follow from time to time covering more of Australia, India, South Africa, Indonesia and Pakistan.

Click here for the Case Notes Index.

For other Indian tales in this series, please see:

Wilson Lythgoe visited Bhavnagar a year earlier, you may care to read his tale.

It was New Yearís Day 1982 in Ahmadabad and at 21.40 I departed behind a YP on 24 Somnath Mail. I was in one of the rear coaches that were due to be detached at Dhola Junction, amazingly I had a compartment to myself; bliss! The engine had a nice chime whistle, and whilst too far back to hear the beat clearly, it was nice to have the window down and enjoy the night air and the sounds at station stops.

At Dhola Junction there was a three train cross and an interchange of carriages scheduled.. I awoke as my carriage was being shunted at 05.00. We were obviously late as the train should have been underway by then. I watched 24 Mail depart behind its YP. My new train was 30 fast passenger which got away shortly after. I was impressed to see sparks fly from the YPís chimney as we bowled along; then I slipped back to sleep and awoke as we were nearing Bhavnagar where I was to photograph the narrow gauge line towards Mahuva, this was the scene at a typical roadside halt en route to Talaja.

It was quite a challenge finding a taxi in Bhavnagar in fit condition for a day trip to Talaja and bargaining a reasonable fare, let alone persuading the driver I really did want to chase trains. 

I caught up with the narrow gauge train just out of Khrishnagar, where the timetabled cross appeared not to have happened. According to my driver the other train no longer ran. The engine was W 573, built by Bagnall in 1912, it towed an auxiliary tender and what looked like a small water gin, but was used as a small milk tanker.

Apart from a viaduct built with brick piers that spanned a dried up riverbed near Khrishnanagar the line was unremarkable, except it was roadside for most of the way. I doubted the line could survive against the thriving bus and truck competition. A year earlier when Wilson visited most of the timetabled trains ran and were steam hauled but the line closed around 1987.

Morning tea was taken at a roadside stall whose proprietor sat crossed legged on the serving hatch. Hygiene did not look the best, but one canít be fussy and after the driver finished telling the locals about the mad foreigner he had ripped off we were on our way again.

Talaja was where the opposite service from Mahuva was crossed. I set out to climb the 150 steps cut into the hillside to reach the Jain temple at the summit. There was time to inspect the temple, it was peaceful and the only noise was from temple bells and the rustle of prayer flags in the wind.

Here are two pictures of the train from Mahuva departing for Bhavnagar, note a former bridge in the background. The bridge was shared with the road, hence the trucks waiting to let the train cross.

During the afternoon I was offered a ride on the engine, W 583 (built in 1920 by Bagnall). 583 had a surprising turn of speed, but I thought it excessive to have a speedometer fitted. The crew had the old engine hammering away and there was some good stack talk from the tall funnel. The firebox door was set very low, almost at floor level, surprisingly it was fitted with butterfly doors, which concealed a raging fire once we got moving. The fireman was able to keep up his swing, despite the guard and a companion deciding to join us on the now crowded footplate. The crew included a second fireman, who attended to fire cleaning duties etc. The whistle had to be used often to alert villagers and roadside traffic, it was loud and raucous and left my ears ringing; the crew must have suffered from industrial deafness.

The fireman who had offered me the footplate ride showed me a photo of himself on a metre gauge locomotive, which he carried in his wallet, I mentally thanked the railfan who had sent it to him. The guards were travelling in a 4 wheel inspectorís saloon at the rear of the train, it is possible one was an inspector, but at the time I thought from what they said it was the regular guardís coach. Many passengers were riding the auxiliary water tanker and the small milk tanker catching the breeze and probably riding at a discount care of the crew.

Roadside chasing, is the sign for the train as well as road users? 

Another shared bridge and the train forces the bus to wait:

When running through villages the speed dropped to walking pace and locals hopped on carriage running boards and used the train as a village tram. Women were to be seen in red saris carrying large brass pitchers on their heads, they would fill these from the water gin behind the tender, or obtain hot water from the engine. The village men had returned from the fields, dressed in white dhotis they surrounded lucky individuals with a transistor radios, listening to the cricket news. Tailors sat at sewing machines using pedal power, outside their homes.

Passing through villages the train ran on its own right of way.

Many passengers on the train only travelled a short distance with their huge loads, which could not be accommodated on a bus. I was to travel on many lines like this during the 1980s and 90s. Travel on narrow gauge lines was always interesting and a safe way to experience rural India and meet its people.

Rob Dickinson